Archive for Catholic Worker

The 2012 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace is… Ruben Garcia

Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, has recognized the life and witness of Ruben Garcia, naming him the 2012 recipient of the Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award.  Pax Christi USA first gave the award to Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, in 1978 and has since recognized some of the most significant U.S. Catholic activists for peace and justice of the past 3 decades, including actor Martin Sheen; poet and priest Daniel Berrigan, S.J.; and Dead Man Walking author Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J.  Garcia is one of the founders and the current director of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas.

During his career at Annunciation House, Garcia has personally welcomed more than 100,000 migrants to his home and community, putting into practice and personally embodying the radical hospitality that Jesus exemplified to the poor, the marginalized, and the excluded. In his nomination of Garcia, Scott Wright, author and biographer of Archbishop Oscar Romero, wrote that Garcia “teaches peace by embodying peace, welcoming the stranger, and inviting others to share in this community where the least have a place at the table. From the experience of welcome and hospitality, comes an awareness and a commitment to address the root causes of injustice that push migrants to flee from the political violence in their countries, or conditions of economic disparity that condemn their families to die in conditions of extreme poverty and misery.”

“PCUSA is pleased to be honoring Ruben Garcia with the 2012 Teacher of Peace Award. For more than 35 years, he has been an inspiring teacher of peace, exemplifying by his life witness the teachings of the Gospel and the spirit of the Beatitudes,” stated Sr. Patty Chappell, SNDdeN, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA. “Ruben’s faith continues to be an inspiring witness to the best of Catholic traditions, social teachings and practices.”

In addition to his work at Annunciation House, Garcia has welcomed and met with hundreds of delegations to the border, teaching by inviting them into the world of the poor and the migrant, and allowing them to see and hear firsthand the stories of immigrants.  He invites them to commit themselves to address the root causes that deny to the immigrant the justice that is due to them in their homeland and in the United States.

“Ruben’s commitment to the radical hospitality of Jesus, welcoming all to the table, with preferential option for migrants, teaches peace moment by moment,” stated Cathy Crosby, Pax Christi USA National Council member and chair of the Teacher of Peace committee. “The PCUSA National Council celebrates the opportunity to recognize Ruben’s many years of humble service.  We hope that the work of Ruben and Annunciation House continues to inspire others to work for justice and peace, as we each recognize the countless small ways we are called to build God’s kingdom here and now.”

The Teacher of Peace award will be presented at a special ceremony honoring Garcia in Washington, D.C. in September 2012.


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Why I Sit and Eat with our Guests: A Reflection on Breaking Bread at Holy Family House

by Rachel Hoffman

Thursday, January 20, 2011

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

As Christians, we strive to follow in the example of Jesus during the Last Supper – as he shared himself deeply in the breaking of the bread.  I am bold in saying that we attempt to the do same during supper time at Holy Family House.  We spend hours planning menus, sorting food, rinsing fruit and veggies, cooking meals, serving meals, and enjoying the fruits of our labor.  Indeed, our work centers on this sacred act of eating- this is how we recognize each other.  I have learned that sharing a common meal, sitting down face to face with a volunteer or guest, is the easiest way to see Christ in another.  This is when I hear about a new job or place to stay, an ill friend or relative, worries and joys.

But we are at Holy Family House to serve, right?  There isn’t enough food to go around, is there?  I have food at home, can’t I just wait till I get home?  I’m so different than the guests, will we have anything to talk about?  I feel guilty about how much I have and how little the guests have, isn’t it just easier to keep my distance?  Whatever your reasons are- we ask that you take a leap of faith with us and join in the breaking of the bread.  Listening is a form of ministry, there’s plenty of food to go around, just take some salad and sit down if you’re not hungry, and we promise there are plenty of things that you have in common with anyone who walks through our door—we are all human after all!

We at Holy Family House are hoping that people from all walks of life can build relationships with one another, understand in little ways how we each think and feel, enjoy each other’s company and in the words of co-founder Dorothy Day; “build a new society out of the old.”  This means doing things differently than we have in the past, sharing resources and time, and interacting in new ways.

So please, humor us- take a break from serving and sit down in our dining room during supper time.  Strike up a conversation, or eat slowly in silence.  Just be with us and our guests in a new way.   We look forward to breaking bread with you soon.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”  Corinthians 10:16




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Father Jack McCaslin, Peace Activist

Editor’s Note:  Many of us involved in peace and justice activities know Father Jack McCaslin.  I recently received the following email, carrying a sad message.

Father Jack McCasln, 82, of Omaha, recently learned that he has lung cancer. He is at Alegent – Bergan Mercy Hospital and in need of our prayers.

For those less familiar with Father Jack McCaslin, he has been a veteran of the civil rights movement since 1965, the peace movement almost forever, and has been a voice for the poor and voiceless in Nebraska and the halls of D.C. all of his life. He was instrumental in starting and supporting several Catholic Worker communities in the Omaha area.

He is currently a major supporter and mentor for the folks at the Omaha Catholic Worker. He has served jail time for crossing the line at StratCom and he demonstrated at the SOA. Recently, he has been ministering to the elderly in nursing homes and visiting death row inmates.  He also lobbies for an end of the death penalty.

He’s been a strong advocate for reform in the Catholic Church and a member of ‘Call To Action.’ He loves being a priest, administering the sacraments, and serving people — especially the poor. For his entire life, he has been a person who puts the teaching of the Gospel into action.

Fr. Jack last crossed the line at StratCom on Aug 9 last year. Visit here for more information regarding this action.

For updates on Fr. Jack’s condition, please contact either Jerry Ebner or Mike Brennan at the Omaha Catholic Worker, 1104 N. 24th St. Omaha, NE 68102;  or at email:; or by phone at 402- 502- 5887.  Additionally, information may be found online at:

Letters and cards can be sent to:
Father Jack McCaslin,
7323 Shirley Street #305
Omaha, NE 68124

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Resisters Oppose Current KC Plant and Its Replacement

By Jane Stoever, member of the Holy Family Catholic Worker House Faith Community and PeaceWorks.

High-energy Kansas Citians are opposing the Kansas City Plant, the U. S Department of Energy’s nuclear-parts facility at Bannister Federal Complex, and are trying to derail the planned replacement for the plant.  Catholic Workers and friends of Catholic Worker houses are helping spark the resistance.

On June 18, after two days of nonviolence training and assistance with strategizing for future actions with Lisa Fithian, an Austin, Texas organizer for the 500-strong youth group Think Outside the Bomb, along with talks by other national and international peace activists, 35 people protested at the current KC Plant on Bannister Road.  The group held signs and chanted their opposition to nuclear weapons and the contaminants from the KC Plant that have injured workers and endangered the community. The resisters have targeted the contaminants and won media attention, hoping to prevent the new KC Plant from being built.

After four activists were arrested and detained for an hour, 15 people moved on to the office of Oppenheimer & Co. Inc.  The firm is selling up to a total of $815 million in municipal bonds to 14 unnamed investors for the new KC Plant at Botts Road and MO Hwy. 150, south of the former Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base. “We need to hit Oppenheimer,” said Lisa Fithian early June 18, wanting the group to focus beyond Bannister. “That’s the corporate piece.”

At Oppenheimer’s office east of the Plaza, Henry Stoever, chair of the PeaceWorks, Kansas City Board, asked to speak to a staff member about the unnamed investors. An Oppenheimer representative offered to meet later if the group would make an appointment, but another staff member warned he was going to call the police. The resisters went to the sidewalk and protested until police arrived, saying they were violating city ordinances, including blocking sidewalks and exceeding noise limits.

Truth is, the group had been shouting at Oppenheimer on the bullhorn.  One resister picked up on the words of David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, who calls nuclear weapons portable crematoriums, delivered to your door. “Get your red-hot crematorium bonds here!” called Sasteh Mosley, president of East Meets West of Troost.

The activists left, going next door to Winstead’s to debrief and celebrate the day’s peace work against the KC Plant, which makes nuclear parts including firing sets, aiming devices and “security systems” to stop terrorists from using nukes.

The four arrested for blocking an outdoor employee entrance at the KC Plant were Frank Cordaro of the Phil Berrigan Catholic Worker House in Des Moines, Iowa; Ron Faust of Gladstone, MO, an AFSC activist; Steve Jacobs of St. Francis Catholic Worker House in Columbia, MO; and me.  Many other resisters were community members or friends of KC’s two Catholic Worker houses, Holy Family and Cherith Brook.

“The new bomb plant will make millions of dollars for a few, get the workers sick, pollute the land and build weapons of mass destruction,” said Ann Suellentrop of the Holy Family catholic Worker Faith Community, PeaceWorks and Physicians for Social Responsibility-KC.  A nurse and the lead organizer for opposition to the plant, Suellentrop added, “You can’t build nuclear weapons and not get sick.”

The group asks Kansas Citians to hop on the resistance bandwagon.  E-mail Suellentrop at to join a list-serv that will announce new actions and to indicate your interest in activities such as meeting with Oppenheimer staff.  Some actions you may be interested in are:

  • July 30-Aug. 9 — Think Outside the Bomb’s permaculture encampment near Los Alamos, N.M.  Travel with other Kansas Citians, learn about nuclear weapons, build giant puppets, and engage in direct actions concerning nuclear weapons production at Los Alamos National Laboratories. Some KC travelers will return home by Aug. 5. For info, contact Ann Suellentrop at
  • Aug. 6 gather at 8:45 a.m. for the 9 a.m. hearing on the June 18 civil resistance at the KC Plant.  Hearing will be at the U.S. Courthouse, 400 E. 9th St., KC, MO.  Organizers suggest bringing signs and wearing peace shirts
  • Aug. 14-16, begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 14, “Close It! Clean It! Don’t Repeat It!” – a peace-and-resistance conference on the KC Plant.  Takes place at Linwood United Church, 3151 Olive, KCMO.  Members of the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker Community will lead reflections about spirituality and resistance and Ralph Hutchison of Oak Ridge, Tenn., will conduct nonviolence training. The weekend includes talks and a concert Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut, KCMO.
  • Aug. 16, 10 a.m. Civil resistance.  Contact Jane Stoever at or 913-206-4088 to register for the Aug. 14-16 gathering and/or provide food for it.

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Catholic Worker’s Bro. Louis Rodemann to take a sabbatical

Text and artwork by Pat Marrin

It is hard to imagine Kansas City without Christian Brother Louis Rodemann. For almost 50 years — since the day he arrived in 1961 as a 21-year-old CB in black cassock and distinctive white tab collar to teach math and science at the old DeLaSalle High School – the name “Brother Louis” (a.k.a. Louie) has been synonymous with care for the down and out in Midtown.

Manny, one of Brother’s many students, used to keep old DeLaSalle yearbooks among the magazines at the barber shop where he cut hair on Wornall Road. See Brother Rodemann, short dark hair, no beard, unsmiling, in total control at the blackboard, the kind of teacher who drilled the basics into his students, the one they will remember with gratitude for the rest of their lives.

Fast forward 50 years. Louis has just rolled a cart stacked with 10 large banana boxes each holding 15 loaves of bread onto the floor scale at Harvesters. Along with another cart of  slightly bruised produce from the cooler and a pallet of paper products and condiments ordered online, this week’s haul will be loaded into the van and unloaded into the basement at Holy Family Catholic Worker House, a mini warehouse of food that will move quickly upstairs and into the evening meal served six days a week. The carts roll clear and Louis steps onto the scale. His 135 pounds have not varied in years and, belying his silver hair curling off the back of his broad, bare forehead, he still has the body of a bantam-weight boxer, rope-like veins down his muscled arms ending in outsized hands accustomed to farm work growing up followed by a lifetime of hands-on ministry.

How Louis got from DeLaSalle to Holy Family House is the story of his unfolding vocation, one call coming within another,  each call taking him deeper into direct engagement with big city poverty and its many causes.

During his 20 years in the classroom, Louis was always alert to the underlying problems and social pressures that dogged his students: the economic disparities hitting minorities; the kids who dropped out to get a job and help out at home; the deteriorating neighborhoods; race and poverty defining thousands of lives. He was already volunteering with the many priests, brothers, religious women and others working in Midtown to address the needs for housing, childcare, pantry and meal programs, healthcare, drug and alcohol recovery. Their ministry was difficult but deeply satisfying in those heady days after Vatican II, when so many Catholics were learning how to put their faith into action.

The story is told that Sr. Jan Cebula, Sr. Joan Kane and Sr. Barbara Jennings, who had resurrected the Catholic Worker House at 31st and Harrison in 1982, found Bro. Louis in a dumpster at the city market. He was a regular volunteer salvager of produce and bread tossed by merchants but still good enough for distribution and cooking up into a meal for the growing population in Midtown short on money and nutrition. He joined the community, thrived there on hard work and the Beatitudes, what he later called “all the necessary elements for living the Christian life. It was the “school of radical Christianity” Dorothy Day intended when she and Peter Maurin opened the first Catholic Worker House in the Bowery section of New York City in 1933. Day visited Kansas City in 1974 when Holy Family House was first opened by Angie O’Gorman, and she would have felt right at home again in 1982, the first year of what was to become a 28-year sojourn for Louis.

In her 1952 autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day described the birth of the Catholic Worker Movement. She could have been describing life at Holy Family:

“We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, ‘We need bread.’ We could not say, ‘Go, be thou filled.’ If there were six small loaves and a few fish, we had to divide them. There was always bread.

“We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us. Let those who can take it, take it. Some moved out and that made room for more. And somehow the walls expanded.”

During Louis’ time at Holy Family, the community waxed and waned, turned over as members moved on or passed away, and new people came, first to visit, then to stay — one year, two years, or eight or 10 years. The changing community matched an evolving ministry to serve the needs of the people, known as “guests,” who came night after night, hungry, in need of a safe place to be, to rest before going back out onto the streets.

Once surrounded by taverns and old brownstone apartments that later fell to city renewal and developers, the House attracted as many as 300 people a night for dinner. Their stories would fill a book the size of the Bible. Billy, the death-row inmate who came up from Houston and stayed 25 years; Lyle, who had read everything and loved to write letters to city hall; Ruby, who was sleeping on a steam grate when she got run over by a trash truck; Jerry, who came every night until he fell on the ice and froze to death near a bus stop; the guests who disappeared but then came back when they got out of prison; Gerard, who had been to Rockhurst University and always carried a book, who died of an asthma attack outside Truman Medical Center. His name is posted above the shelf of donated books at the House.

Over the years, other ministries were added to the meal program: help with prescription medications, half-price bus passes, hats, gloves and socks in winter, help with birth certificates and picture IDs, travel out of town for funerals and family emergencies, breakfast, monthly hygiene bags with toilet paper, soap, toothbrushes. The ministry drew hundreds of volunteers from area churches, prompted by their pastors who regularly said Mass at the House on Thursday after the evening meal, the little red table on wheels that held the bread at supper serving as the altar. Church or family groups covered each night of the week. Menus featured pasta or potatoes for starch, white or red sauce or gravy for taste, green beans, salad, bread, dessert, pitchers of cold water on the tables, or hot tea, lots of sugar, in the winter. Volunteer gleaners picked up day-old bread, pastries and produce from area supermarkets to supplement weekly shopping from Harvesters warehouse, a mainstay for over 500 meal programs and pantries all over the city.

Needs grew. Staffing got thin. Some years Louis was there with just one other volunteer, like young Tom Cook from Chicago, whom the guests loved because he could never say no. The LaSallian volunteer program brought willing young people to the House, fresh energy to support Louis, exhausted, sleepless, driving himself to distraction to keep everything going. The multiple programs were like wheels within wheels, cycles of resupply and distribution that appeared to run automatically, but, in fact, ran only because of  Louis’s meticulous attention to detail, hours on the phone maintaining volunteer lists, matching resources to needs, checking daily slips of paper in the pocket of his plaid shirt to remind him to pay the bills, answer the mail, take a car in for license plates to replace the ones stolen during the night, drive the van to help someone move, fix holes punched through the walls in the family shelter, go to court with someone.

It was not all work. The House was famous for its potluck parties, good food, Tony on the accordion, Louis and Sr.Theresa Maly doing the two-step, Brother Jim on the guitar, games of Jeopardy with Danny as Alex Trebek wearing a comb for a mustache and calling out the questions. Volunteers had nicknames like “Back Door Mary” Vincent (to distinguish her from “Front Door Mary” Leibman),  to go with guest names like “Big John,” “Doc,” “Little Bit,’ and “Speedy.”  This was Holy Family.

Life at the House was the center of its own universe, a place some called “Holy,” others just came to out of desperation, dodging the dealers and predators to get a meal and some take-home food for the morning. It was a zone where, if you were sober, watched your mouth, didn’t have a weapon, you became part of a miracle of hospitality that everyone created and maintained.  For many of the volunteers, driving in from Brookside or Johnson County, being at the House was a way to cross a border into the kind of brokenness you never imagined could exist in the city, but there it was, mothers carrying small children, going through the line before heading out for another night in a car. All very disturbing, getting into your heart and your dreams like a question that won’t go away, changing the way you thought about everything.

The House is in transition. This June, Bro. Louis will begin a long sabbatical, spending time in the mountains of New Mexico in a program that helps people in ministry catch their breath and decide what they will do next. At 70, Louis has longevity on his side (his time away will begin at home in Jefferson City with his 90-year-old mother). In the busyness of life at Holy Family, he admits he has postponed for too long his need to read and study, pray over his many encounters with God in the corporal works of mercy. There is advocacy work to be done, especially in the areas of disarmament and conflict resolution.

Dorothy Day set the example. In her latter years she set aside her broom and went to the farm to pray and write. She rode the bus to visit the many communities that were springing up in the movement. She packed along  her Tolstoy, her Dostoevsky and her Bible, reading her way across the country, showing up with Cesar Chavez in California, at missile sites in New Mexico, or wherever there was some cause to study and write about.

The House will go on, handed over to younger energy, fresh ideas about how to be a Catholic Worker. The circle of volunteers who have received life from the House will gather round to protect the mission, keep it going. Louis will be away, but always present in the programs he started and the people he mentored. Always a teacher, he will continue to shape and motivate so many of us who were blessed to share in the work and the fun at Holy Family House.

Pat Marrin is just one of hundreds of volunteers who have been part of Holy Family Catholic Worker House. He lived there for six months in 2006, currently edits “Celebration,” the worship resource of the National Catholic Reporter, located in Midtown about a three-minute drive from Holy Family. Contact him at

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In the heart of Kansas City…Holy Family Catholic Worker House

In the heart of Kansas City, on a busy street steeped with a rich and often tumultuous history, are two houses side by side. The three story houses are white with a dark green trim, reminiscent of the deep color of pine needles or, in the sun, the leaves on the rose bushes by the front porch. Appearing residential in every way, the houses are, in fact, the home to a somewhat unusual family unit.  “Holy Family House,” you see, was the name that would call these simple dwellings and their earnest residents to remember the promise they made to each other: To work for peace and justice by seeing the face of Christ in every forgotten and abused person; to love that person with unconditional love. Two houses. Hundreds of people coming together and believing. A whole lotta love.

Holy Family House has been a part of urban Kansas City for nearly 36 years. In the beginning was Angie O’Gorman, a woman full of passion for justice, and a heart for sharing dignity. In 1974 Angie and her companions were inspired by the words and actions of Dorothy Day, foundress of the Catholic Worker movement. Dorothy Day believed in working for equality by direct works of mercy, and she advocated loudly for the rights of those oppressed by an unjust system. The Catholic Worker movement is characterized by a deep spirit of personalism: walking with those in suffering, sharing resources and providing hospitality to people on the margins of society. In this spirit, Angie and her cohorts began Holy Family House.  Holy Family House embraces the Catholic Worker philosophy and the power of personal relationships as a means to transform the world.

Since its birth, Holy Family Catholic Worker House has been operated by a live-in community of volunteer staff.  Cycling in and out over time, these volunteers have committed to providing food, shelter, and a loving presence to the marginalized people of Kansas City. Brother Louis Rodemann became a live-in community member of Holy Family House in 1982, and he has been a steadfast presence to the house and the Kansas City community ever since. Brother Louis has remained a pillar of the house, and his deep dedication to homeless and abused people has inspired many for nearly 28 years.

Now, in the spring of 2010, we find the house is again entering a time of transition and growth as Brother Louis prepares for a year- long sabbatical. He will be leaving Holy Family House for a time, and he will not return in the same capacity. With sadness, but also with a sense of hope, the community is encouraging Brother Louis to pursue a personal period of renewal and regeneration. We continue to seek his wisdom and guidance as the house moves forward into the future.

As always, Holy Family House is looking to the community for help and assistance in our need. At Holy Family House we serve meals 6 days a week to people like Jackie, a single man who has been homeless on and off since his lay off from MO-DOT nearly 2 years ago. Jackie leaves City Union Mission at 5 a.m. everyday and takes the bus to 31st and Troost.  He then walks to Holy Family where he waits on the porch until we open the doors for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. After we close at 8:30 a.m., Jackie spends his days looking for work and housing and just trying to pass the time until the house opens again at 4:00 p.m. Finding a job is hard in these times, even harder for someone with no home to call their own, and Jackie has had difficulties like many others in his shoes. Nonetheless, Jackie is a hard worker, and is quick to volunteer his time to Holy Family House, often offering to wash dishes in exchange for bus passes or food. Jackie is outgoing, friendly and generous, a truly respected member of the “Holy House” community, and a formidable chess opponent. Jackie is only one of hundreds of guests who visit Holy Family. We ask Jackie how he finds the strength to keep going and he replies every time: “Only with God.”

We place the needs of our guests, people like Jackie, at the forefront, and we will continue to offer hospitality and meals to the homeless and forgotten of the city.  A planning committee comprised of 14 individuals closely associated with the house has been working diligently on a future plan for Holy Family House. At this time, the house continues to rely greatly on volunteers, especially the live-in staff and the long-term volunteers who have shown many years of dedication to the mission. We continue to welcome participation in the house through personal interaction with the guests, who call us back again and again to the mission. We are also actively seeking folks who may be interested in stepping into the role of a live-in staff. The live-in community is a special aspect of the Catholic Worker, and truly at the core of Holy Family House.  We welcome prospective volunteers or interested individuals to contact us about our discernment process, and of course we offer the invitation to visit the house and visit with our guests.

In the heart of our wonderful city, Holy Family House is changing and growing, yet the house stands firm in its commitment to service and hospitality. Come “taste and see.”

Contact or call 816-753-2677 with questions or for more information.

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